Welcome to Iceland – Part 2. If you missed part 1, check it out!
My 30th birthday! On May 26th we woke up (to rain of course) at the Reykjavik Campsite. I liked this campsite because it kind of embodies a sense of community and sharing. There are places to camp in tents, camper vans and RVs, but there’s also a hostel attached for people who want to sleep in actual rooms. The bathrooms, while kind of industrial were ok (Jamie didn’t like them, he said the boys one was gross) but the kitchen area had probably 12 separate cooking stations, each with its own sink, stove top and prep area. There was a shelf full of communal cooking utensils and pots and pans and even a shelf of non-perishable food that people had left there during their travels. There was also a dining/ hang out room next door which had good wifi and outlets at all the tables. This was definitely geared towards the young backpacker audience. It was weird though…for the amount of people there, there were strict no noisiness rules in place so this cool room full of interesting people was completely silent….Very The Island.
After breakfast, Jamie and I retreated to our Camper van to escape the mole people. And also because shortly, a very handsome 24 year old Icelandic surfer named Antone from Arctic Surfers would be coming to pick us up for surfing!! Antone had blue eyes, fair skin and red curly hair. Love you, Antone.
When we got in the car, Antone had already picked up the other couple doing the day trip with us. They were a German couple, both around 30 years old; the boy was an experienced surfer and the girl had opted out of participating. She offered to use my camera to take some action shots for us (thanks)! This would be my second time surfing (the first was in Hawaii and did not require a wetsuit…) and Jamie has recently become very interested in surfing and by this time he’d surfed several times in various places. Antone drove us all to get a quick lunch and then to Thorlakshofn where we got into our wetsuits out on the black sand.
The beach was beautiful and foggy and once the wetsuit was on, I was warm as an Icelandic bug in a sheep’s wool rug. I should say though, that while I was already worried about my upper body strength being an obstacle in my surfing endeavours, it never occurred to me that the act of putting on the wetsuit would be, in fact, what drained me of all my strength. Once we actually got into the water, I literally swam for about 10 minutes and realized it was futile for me to try to swim out against the current to the place where you’re supposed to catch the waves. (I have since integrated free weights into my gym routine…). So while the stronger boys went deeper into the Ocean, I found myself content staying where my toes could touch the bottom, practising my basics (spotting the right waves, swimming with them and pushing myself up on the board). And while I didn’t look as glamorous as the boys did, I was proud of the few times I stood up on the board for more than 2 seconds and when we were all finished, I pat myself on the back. A for effort. Didn’t drown. Success.
Next we all piled into the car in our wetsuits and Antone drove us to the town’s Rec Centre. Because Icelanders are very proud of all the geothermal activity there, every town seems to have a community recreation centre, focused on swimming and lounging in man-made hot springs. This one had fantastic facilities, a giant gymnasium for community events, a large outdoor pool and several hot tubs of varying temperatures. I got the impression that after school, this is where families go to spend time together. There were so many people there, kids were playing and neighbours were catching up. It was cool. By that point we were all a little chilled so finishing the day with a luxurious soak in the hot tub was heavenly. Antone dropped us off at the campsite an hour later and after the simplest meal possible, we fell asleep absolutely exhausted. Best 30th birthday I ever had.
The next morning, we began our journey east along the southern coast of the island. Our first stop was to the same bakery Antone had taken us to the day before because I suddenly realized I hadn’t eaten any birthday cake and this was a problem. After that necessary trip was complete, we hit the state-run Vinbudin to stock up on exorbitantly priced alcohol (I drank the cheapest cider I could find, the whole trip).
Next up was Seljalandsfoss (If you haven’t figured it out yet, everything that ends in “foss” is a waterfall…) It was raining that day (a big shock to both of us) and one thing we noticed while visiting Seljalandsfoss was so many people were ill-equipped for the weather. I saw women wearing garbage bags in heels for Pete’s sake. People. Bring your hiking boots. Or at least some water proof shoes. And a jacket. It’s Iceland!
This was a pretty waterfall, a little touristy for my taste, but it was nice. There’s a path for you to walk around behind the water and if you follow the little path to the west of the main waterfall, there’s a more interesting hidden one that looks a little magical.
Back in the car, on our way to Skogafoss for yet another un-missable, tourist-heavy waterfall. Once we got there, we noticed a little fish and chips shack on the side of the road, but we decided we would save it for our way back to Reykjavik in a couple days. By now it was raining pretty hard, and while the normal thing to do at these falls is to climb the 382 step staircase along the hill, it looked pretty slippery and we were unmotivated to do the trek in the rain. Instead, after walking around the base of the falls for a bit, we went to the visitor’s centre and asked if they had any recommendations for what to do instead of the stairs. The gentleman there gave us step by step instructions on how to reach a hidden waterfall about a 20 minute walk away. So we drove to the Skogar Museum (1 minute away), parked at the back, went through a farmer’s gate and started walking east along the curve of a hill. About 15 minutes later after walking in what we hoped was the right direction, we discovered the most beautiful, hidden waterfall. Only 3 other people were there and it seemed to us like we had discovered it all on our own. Romance falls, I’ll call it (but I think it might actually be called Selvaosfoss?).
Our last stop of the day before finding a campsite to stay at was Vik. We had heard a lot about Vik because it serves as a kind of hub along the Southern coast. It’s a fishing town with a school, a rec centre, restaurants and a grocery store. There’s a large gas station there that’s attached to a diner that serves seemingly delicious burgers and fries (we didn’t feel like spending $75 on burgers, so we ate our grocery lunch instead). Because these amenities are few and far between in Iceland, this place gets very busy, especially on the weekends. A lot of people see Vik at the same time as visiting Reynisfjara Beach (the most famous black sand beach) but we decided to save that for the ride back. So instead, we hit up the trusted Vistor’s centre and asked them what we should do there (this became a trend for us because they were always super helpful). The lovely man at the centre directed us to a hike that goes straight up 1,092 ft to the top of Reynisfjall mountain, overlooking Vik and if you walk west enough, you can also look right over Reynisfjara Beach. Again, this was such a nice, secluded hike away from the more touristy areas, and it was such a gorgeous view. It took us about 2.5 hours to do the whole thing, the perfect end to the day.
We set off to find our next campsite, which we came across by accident, and it turned out to be our favourite campsite of the trip. On the way, though we ended up stopping at two hotels to ask for campsite tips and one day when I’m a millionaire, I want to come back and stay at them. Attention Millionaires: please, so I can live vicariously through you, stay at either the Icelandair Hotel Vik or the Hotel Katla which reminded me of The Shining. When we arrived at the Kirkjubæjarklaustur campsite (Yes, that’s the name) we loved the tiny cottages that surrounded the perimeter of the site, there were showers (which cost 6 dollars to use, but hey) and warm, clean washrooms and the view from the camper van was beautiful.
The next morning, we had our Skyr, berries and granola and set off for Jokulsarlon Lagoon to see weird little ice bergs floating around a glacial lake.
Jokulsarlon is a glacial lake in front of a massive glacier. Bits of the glacier break off and float around in this lake before funnelling into the Atlantic ocean. It was pretty cool to see, and it is very beautiful but researching online gave us the impression there was a bit more to do here. Sure, you can pay to go on boat tours to see the seals and icebergs up close, but the lake isn’t that big. You’d be spending almost an hour on a very slow boat ride around a fairly small area. It could be very relaxing for some people, but I think we would have become restless and would rather spend our time moving around. There was a small cafe and gift shop here, which was convenient but made for a very busy place. I would definitely recommend stopping here, but while we thought we would spend a few hours here, I would suggest stopping for half an hour to an hour.
At this point, since we thought we would have spent more time at the lake, we set off back in the direction we came from, knowing we had to start our journey back to Reykjavik and that there were a few things we had passed on the way that looked interesting. One such place was Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. We hadn’t planned on stopping here, but when we found ourselves with extra time, it was the perfect solution. I’m so happy we ended up here as it became one of the my favourite parts of the trip (maybe it had to do with the fact that the sun was out for some of the visit…) Again, after speaking with the Visitor Centre folks, we had a plan. We hiked up to Sjonarnipa viewpoint to look out over the Skaftafellsjokull glacier. Then we walked over the top of the mountain to the Svartifoss waterfall, took some pictures and began our descent down the mountain.
We stayed at the Kirkjubæjarklaustur campsite again that night because we loved it so much the night before and the next morning we woke up to a bit of sun and the sounds of millions of sheep bleeting on the hill.
Ugly: My upper body strength. Forget looking good, my new gym goal is to turn these pythons into surfing machines.
Awesome: Surprises! On paper, Skaftafell didn’t really seem like the most exciting place, but I’m so happy we made it there. It was a challenging hike with a really rewarding view at the end and it turned our spirits right around after a slightly disappointing morning.
Tune in next time to hear all about Viking Tombs and Gas Station etiquette!